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Lesotho profile - Timeline

1820s - Basutoland founded by Moshoeshoe, who unites various groups to repel challenges from Zulus.

1834 - Territorial encroachment by Boer trekkers starts decades of conflict.

1860s - Becomes a British protectorate.

1871 - Annexed to the Cape Colony.

1884 - Becomes a British colony after revolt against Cape Colonial rule. Paramount chiefs retain large degree of autonomy.

1939-45 - World War II, with 20,000 Sotho serving in the British forces.

1950s - Political parties emerge, press for independence.

A historical perspective of Lesotho’s political crisis

by Joseph Ngwawi – SANF 14 no 48
The current political challenges in the Kingdom of Lesotho can be better understood in the context of the country’s history of internal squabbles.

The mountainous kingdom, surrounded by South Africa, has a long history of political instability that dates back to the time when it attained its independence in October 1966.

Soon after independence a constitutional crisis arose when King Moshoeshoe II attempted to obtain wider personal powers in accordance with traditional rights.

When his attempt failed, the King was forced by then Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan to sign an undertaking that he would abide by the constitution, which gave executive powers to the Prime Minister.

This resulted in continued strained relations between the Prime Minister and the King.

When the opposition Basotho Congress Party (BCP) led by Ntsu Mokhehle won the next elections in 1970, Jonathan declared a state of emergency, and placed the King under house arrest, nullified the elections, suspended the constitution, and banned all political parties.

King Moshoeshoe II was forced into an eight-month exile in the Netherlands in 1970 but returned in December of the same year.

Meanwhile instability haunted Jonathan’s administration. Unable to contain it, he established an 86-member all-party National Assembly to draw up a new constitution and revoked the state of emergency.

This move split the BCP into two camps: one whose members were willing to accept nomination to the interim Assembly and the other led by Mokhehle who demanded a return to the previous political system.

In January 1974 there was an attempted coup led by Mokhehle which was suppressed, and saw a number of his supporters imprisoned.

Further political instability occurred in January 1986 when troops of the Lesotho paramilitary force, led by Major General Justin Lekhanya deposed the Jonathan government.

Lekhanya reinstated the King, who was to govern on the advice of a military council headed by Lekhanya himself.

However, relations deteriorated when Lekhanya dismissed three members of the military council and one member of the council of ministers, but the King refused to approve the changes.

Lekhanya suspended executive and legislative powers, forcing King Moshoeshoe II to once again go into exile.

In his absentia, his son Letsie III, ascended to the throne reluctantly, after promising not to dabble in politics.

On 30 April 1991, a coup orchestrated by Major General Elias Phitsoane Ramaema, a member of the military council, succeeded in removing Lekhanya as chairperson.

This encouraged Moshoeshoe to return on 20 July 1992 after two years in exile, but as an ordinary citizen, not as king.

Mokhehle, the veteran leader of the BCP, won a landslide victory in the country’s first multi-party elections in 23 years, which were held in 1993.

The Basotho National Party (BNP) alleged widespread irregularities and refused to accept the results of the elections and subsequently declined the BCP government’s offer of two seats in the newly established senate.

Reconciliation and peace did not last long. Army units fought each other in the middle of January 1994.

By then however, southern Africa was under-going interesting political reforms, including the transition in apartheid South Africa.

Crucial to Lesotho’s external affairs has been its relationship with South Africa. Completely surrounded, Lesotho relies heavily on its neighbour in almost all economic spheres.

Lesotho’s anti-apartheid stance at the United Nations and the then Organisation of African Unity – precursor to the African Union – in the first half of 1975 increased tensions between the two countries.

These mounted as Lesotho refused to recognize apartheid South Africa’s proclamation of an independent Transkei in October 1976.

The two countries’ ties deteriorated further during 1982-83 in the wake of South African armed raids against the African National Congress in Lesotho.

The tension between the two neighbours began to thaw after the end of apartheid although, as it is completely surrounded by South Africa, Pretoria continues to play a significant role in Maseru’s economic and political sphere.

For instance, when the army units fought against each other in 1994, the presidents of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe met in Maseru and agreed to establish a regional task force to monitor a ceasefire.

The initiative was historic and succeeded in containing the crisis, resulting in a truce in late January 1994.

There were, however, continued cases of indiscipline within the army. In mid-April 1994, rebel troops assassinated Selometsi Baholo, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance who had been kidnapped along with four other cabinet ministers.

This, coupled with the unresolved kingship issue as well as a three-week wage strike by the police and prison officers, made the country ungovernable once again the government applied for external help.

South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe formed a commission to look into the disturbances in Lesotho.

On 17 August 1994 King Letsie III announced that he was suspending parliament and setting up a provisional council that was representative of all people.

The government declared the king’s announcement unconstitutional, which provoked disturbances in the country in which at least four people were killed.

The new South African government led by Nelson Mandela, together with Botswana and Zimbabwe, threatened to cut supplies to Lesotho. The pressure worked and Mokhehle’s government was officially restored on 14 September 1994.

In November of the same year, King Moshoeshoe II returned to his throne and his son Letsie III took the title of crown-prince.

King Moshoeshoe II was killed in a motor accident in January 1996 and crown prince Letsie was selected to succeed him by the college of chiefs.

In June 1997 Mokhehle resigned from the BCP following disagreements within the party over his leadership.

He formed a new party called the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), taking with him 40 of the BCP’s 64 members of parliament. The move enabled the LCD to secure a parliamentary majority, retaining its hold on government.

The BCP and several groups in the country challenged the action as unconstitutional, but the government remained in power.

In early 1998, Mokhehle retired from politics and Pakhalita Mosisili took over as the leader of LCD.

Lesotho’s second general elections since its return to civilian rule were held on 23 May 1998, with the LCD winning 79 of the 80 seats in the National Assembly.

The main opposition parties BNP, BCP and the Marematlou Freedom Party protested strongly to the Independent Electoral Commission that the poll was rigged.

The opposition parties succeeded in getting a court order calling on the elections to be audited and a nine-member committee, headed by South African Judge Pius Langa, was set up to probe any poll malpractice.

On 11 September 1998, junior officers of the Lesotho Defence Forces arrested 29 of their seniors including the army commander, and coerced him into announcing his resignation over national radio.

Immediately after the announcement, confusion reigned in Maseru and other parts of Lesotho, as citizens feared a government overthrow.

SADC Heads of State and Government meeting in Mauritius decided to release the final Langa report in the hope of calming the situation.

The Langa Commission acknowledged the occurrence of election irregularities but was vague in its findings and did not state any definite conclusions.

In a country where political tension had mounted to a breaking point, the release of an inconclusive report was the last straw. The four-months-old election chaos brought the economy to a virtual standstill.

Protesters maintained an all-night vigil outside the king’s palace demanding that the king annul the election results. However, because of the constitutional clause barring the involvement of the king in politics, he was powerless.

Mutinous members of the army seized arms and ammunition and expelled or imprisoned their commanding officers.

In light of this crisis the Prime Minister of Lesotho appealed to Southern African Development Community (SADC) for assistance to restore the authority of his government.

A combined task force of South African and Botswana forces entered Lesotho on 22 September 1998 to restore order but met with unexpectedly tough resistance.

In a give-and-take peace deal initiated by Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa in early October 1998, the Lesotho government agreed to hold fresh elections in 2000.

The opposition agreed to allow the LCD government to remain in power until then, and a Transitional Executive Committee comprising government, parliament and the opposition was put in place to facilitate the preparations for holding of elections.

Post-electoral dissatisfaction resurfaced after elections in 2007 as the opposition party refused to accept the results, plunging the country into a crisis.

This resulted in a negotiating team comprising the Heads of Churches in Lesotho and SADC facilitators being put in place by southern African leaders to address the situation.

This culminated in a SADC-brokered peace deal in April 2011 following more than two years of talks aimed at finding a lasting solution to the political challenges in the country.

Again, intra-party tensions led to the splitting of the ruling LCD, with Mosisili resigning from the party and taking with him several senior officials to form the Democratic Congress (DC).

Elections were held in May 2012, which were won by Mosisili but he failed garner enough votes to form a government.

The DC led by Mosisili could only manage to win 41 of the 80 contested constituencies against about 26 seats for the All Basotho Convention (ABC) led by Thomas Thabane, which then formed an alliance with the LCD and the BNP.

The three-party coalition government that many observers hoped would bring lasting stability to the country had faced challenges, resulting in the latest political crisis in the wake of an alleged coup plot by Lesotho’s military on 30 August.

Several explanations have been put forward for the events leading to the latest conflict, including allegations that soldiers seized weapons from several police stations and surrounded Thabane’s residence in Maseru. The military, however, denied staging a coup.

The latest political crisis was allegedly set off when Thabane, facing a vote of no confidence, suspended Parliament in June.

Another reason cited for the latest conflict is the decision by Thabane to dismiss Lesotho Defence Force commander Kennedy Tlali Kamoli, replacing him with Maaparankoe Mahao.

At a meeting between the Troika of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation and the coalition government on 1 September in Pretoria, South Africa, SADC agreed to send a facilitator to Lesotho to work with the coalition government as they implement the agreed roadmap.

In a joint statement with the SADC Organ Troika, the Basotho leaders announced that they would take steps to lift the suspension of parliament that had been ordered by Thabane in June to avoid a no-confidence vote.

The meeting reiterated the Basotho leaders’ commitment to the Windhoek Declaration of July 2014 in which they agreed to work together to restore political stability, stability, peace and security, and law and order in the country. sardc.net

Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region.

This article may be reproduced with credit to the author and publisher.


Below are highlights of the National
University of Lesotho (NUL)’s vice
chancellors since the beginning of the new
In 2000 Vice Chancellor (VC) Professor Maboee
Moletsane was succeeded by the then Dr
Tefetso Mothibe 2000 – 2005.
Mothibe, the former VC, is now Associate
During Mothibe’s tenure NUL started working on
a strategic development plan.
He worked on the transformation of the university
which was then well received by NUL
Transformation was well received as it was said to
be inclusive but later could not be implemented
due to alleged lack of political will and support
from government.
The transformation processes collapsed as a result
of lack of government support for its
Both Mothibe and Moletsane’s tenures were
characterised by frequent students’ strikes over
National Manpower Development Secretariat
sponsorship, late stipend payments and book
2005 – 2007, Pro Vice Chancellor Professor
Mafa Sejanamane became the acting VC of
Professor Sejanamane acted as the university’s
Vice Chancellor for 18 months.
During his tenure at NUL a lot of infrastructure
improvements took place.
The Health Sciences building was built while the
Thomas Mofolo library was expanded.
The Queen ‘Masenate residence was constructed
during his time as the acting Vice chancellor
together with a project of fencing the university’s
main campus.
Sejanamane implemented a restriction on the
academic and non-academic staff salaries.
When the restructured salaries were introduced
there we protests against the restructured
salaries as some employees claimed they were
prejudiced against.
The restructured salaries received a lot of protests
from some lecturers.
2007 – 2009 VC Professor Adelani
The Nigerian professor sought and secured
funding on behalf of the university.
He was later accused of misusing funds from
donors and he was widely criticised for it by the
Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers
Union (LUTARU).
During his tenure of office as the NUL Vice
Chancellor he secured the university the WK
Kellogg Foundation funding for research and
other academic projects but later allegedly
misused the same funds for his own personal
He later became infamous for a statement in
which he repeatedly said: “The dogs can bark but
the chariot moves on.”
The statement depicted him as impervious to
Just like others before him his tenure in office saw
a fair share of students strikes over NMDS unpaid
Ogunrinade died at the age of 56 at Medi-clinic in
Bloemfontein South Africa.
He passed away on April 3 at a time when he was
challenging his dismissal from the university for
alleged misappropriation of funds, inflating per
diem claims and taking leave without
authorisation in February 2010.
He was suspended in August 2009 to allow for
investigations to take place for allegedly
embezzling the United States based organisation,
WK Kellogg Foundation aid.
At the time Kellogg foundation had given NUL an
US$800 000 grant (over M7 million).
2009 – 2010 PVC Professor Molapi Sebatane
Acting VC PVC.
Sebatane has been described as a moderate
individual who took office after Ogurinade’s
Sebatane’s tenure was rather quiet but saw the
university bursar robbed twice.
When the bursar Matsobane Putsoa reported the
matter to Sebatane who was then acting Vice
Chancellor, Sebatane’s response was the matter
was noted and no formal internal action was
taken over the matter. The police were informed
of the matter.
2011 – 2013 VC Professor Sharon Siverts
At the beginning of her tenure lecturers and staff
were exited by restructuring but she ended up
angering the same university community when
the restructuring process allegedly became
exclusive and not as inclusive as the lecturers had
Her tenure ended up being characterised by a
“cat and mouse” chase between the university’s
administration and LUTARU and the Non
Academic Staff Union.
The Siverts-LUTARU war spilled into parliament
with the ruling party (LCD then) supporting a
move to grant the Vice Chancellor powers to fire
employees at the university in a move meant to
exorcise the university’s “rogue elements” that
acted against the NUL restructuring process.
During the run-up to the May 26, 2012 poll, the
then opposition parties rallied support from the
electorate by announcing they would fire
Professor Siverts upon ascending to power as
The university under Siverts was threatened by a
long running three-month academic staff strike
which later disturbed the university’s academic
year and the 2012/2013 academic year was
abridged to normalise the university calendar.
The normalisation of the university calendar
ended in the university experiencing its worst-
ever students failure rate across the faculties.
During her tenure the university experienced an
exodus of academic staff which LUTARU blamed
on the restructuring process that was allegedly
not inclusive and that the Vice Chancellor used to
violate university statutes and orders.
2013 Pro VC Professor Sejanamane is now the
acting VC.

Lesotho is an independent nation-state enclave within the Republic of South Africa. There are many things to learn about this fascinating mountainous country.

Nonetheless, the 12 interesting facts provided herein will help you make a quick knowledge hitchhike to its summit

12. Lesotho was formerly known as Basutoland. An individual is called a Mosotho and the people are called Basotho.

Lesotho is a mono-ethnic state occupied by Basotho. It was founded by King Moshoeshoe I in the 18 th Century. Before Basotho occupied it, it was occupied by the Khoisan people who are widely spread in Botswana and some other parts of Southern Africa.

11. The name of “Lesotho” roughly means the land of the people who speak Sesotho.

The word ‘le' is a prefix meaning ‘of'. The main word is ‘sotho'. Thus, ‘ba’ and ‘mo’ are other prefixes, loosely meaning ‘we’ and ‘I’, respectively.

Hence the word ‘sotho' can be considered as representing a unique ethnic identity – based on culture, ancestry, linguistic uniqueness, among others.

There are many other prefixes such as ‘se' that can be applied which may not have a direct translation, yet combined with ‘sotho' can create a unique meaning.

10. Lesotho is a high-altitude country, 2161 m above sea level. It is also famously known as “The Kingdom in the Sky.”

Lesotho is a mountainous country. Being on a high point, it is considered much closer to the skies than other places surrounding it. This is why it gets its unique reference as “The Kingdom in the Sky”.

Indeed, looking towards Lesotho from surrounding lowlands is like looking into the sky over the horizon.

9. The junction of the Orange and Makhaleng Rivers at 1,400 m is the lowest point in Lesotho. It is also the highest lowest point of any country in the world.

Lesotho is a highland nation. The joint between Makhaleng River and Orange River happens at the border point between Lesotho and South Africa.

It beckons one to the ‘God Help Me Pass’ and ‘Gates of Paradise Pass’. These are the two main mountain passes near this highest lowest point of any country in the world.

8. Lesotho has one of the highest adult literacy rates in Africa.

With a literacy rate of 85% for women and 67% for men, Lesotho has the highest adult literacy rate of any country in Africa.

Furthermore, Lesotho is probably the only country in Africa where the female literacy rate supersedes the male literacy rate by a wide margin.

The gap between female literacy rate and that of the male is over 15%. This is probably the widest gap in the world.

7. Diamond mining is an important part of the country’s GDP and accounts for 9% of it.

Lesotho is largely an agricultural country. Though, its land is highly rugged, stony, and mountainous in most parts making large-scale farming difficult. Diamond boosts its national income.

Diamond stones are not such many but they fetch the highest price in the world due to their unique quality.

6. Lesotho sees 300 days of sunshine every year. Rainy season in the country falls between October and April.

Being ‘The Kingdom in the Sky’ Lesotho receives one of the highest exposures to sunlight in the world. Not being a hot desert country and more so, not being along the equator, 300 days of sunshine per year is quite high.

5. The Katse Dam in Lesotho is the second largest double-curvature arch dam in Africa. It is 185 m high and 710 m in length.

Katse Dam is only rivaled by Tekeza Dam in Ethiopia. Both are double curvature arch dams. Located on Malibamat’so River, Katse Dam not only acts as a reservoir of water but also generates hydroelectric power.

4. Sesotho was one of the first African languages to develop a written form and has an extensive literature.

With the aid of Missionaries, Sesotho was translated into written form long before colonialists embarked on colonization projects in most of the interior Sub-Saharan Africa. This helped to boost literacy rates long before some African countries established the formal schooling system.

3. Cow in Lesotho is valued above money.

Meat in Lesotho is a rare delicacy for many households. Milk too is rare for most households. Starchy diets are common for poor households with animal sources of protein, mainly meat and milk becoming a rare prestige for those ‘rich’ few who can afford it.

A cow, being the primary source of animal proteins, makes it highly valued. With a cow in the compound, you are full-cycle in terms of food self-sufficiency and a balanced diet.

Considering that most of Basotho live in rural areas, the bulk of their money will be used to buy food with less incurred on traditional clothing and shleter. If they can have a food source in sufficient supply, why would they bother about money?

2. To avoid the cost of importing food from neighboring South Africa, most families in Lesotho raise their own wheat, corn, cabbage, pumpkins, and peas etc.

Lesotho is relatively rocky and mountainous with a few locations fit for large-scale arable farming. Most farming is small-scale. Food production is hardly enough to satisfy domestic consumption.

On the other hand, food imports from South Africa are quite expensive and can wipe out households’ entire income. This makes every household, especially in rural areas to do its best to become self-sufficient in food production.

However, the vagaries of drought, accompanied by overdependence on rain can drive households into the dependence of food imports during the drought season.

1. Because of its natural abundance, water in Lesotho is known as “white gold.”

Lesotho is blessed with several rivers. Nonetheless, it is still susceptible to drought. It is during extremely dry seasons that Basotho appreciate the importance of water for their survival and this makes them consider water as ‘white gold’.

Indeed, compared to the high cost of imported food during drought season, water becomes some sort of a ‘gold’ reserve that can help them save coins in such hard times.

History of conflict

There is a long history of South Africa intervening in Lesotho’s politics. In the early 1990s democratic transitions in both Lesotho and South Africa held out promise for greater peace both within and between these two countries.

In Lesotho, that hope was immediately undercut. Early in 1994 a conflict within the country’s military broke out. Fighting between two factions of the defence force escalated and gun fire was exchanged across Maseru.

Desperate for help, prime minister Ntsu Mokhehle wrote to the South African president, FW de Klerk, asking that he dispatch

a peacekeeping force to Maseru, in order to separate the two sides in the army who are definitely on a bloody collision course…

After discussions with South Africa’s presumptive future president, Nelson Mandela, De Klerk demurred. Instead, intense diplomatic intervention by Southern African Development Community helped to temporarily steady Lesotho’s precarious politics.

But a pernicious precedent was set. When confronted with domestic problems Lesotho’s political actors would look for assistance beyond their borders, rather than seek to compromise with their compatriots. This dynamic has manifested itself many times since.

Lesotho’s prime minister, Tom Thabane. Gianluigi Guercia/AFP-GettyImages

In August 1998, with protests over a contested election in Lesotho mounting, King Letsie III asked Mandela, who was by then president of South Africa, to help resolve the situation. South Africa’s attempted solution, a Southern African Development Community commission to look into the elections, was inconclusive. A mutiny in Lesotho’s military compounded the crisis.

put together quickly a strong military intervention to help Lesotho return to normalcy.

The ensuing regional intervention force did restore stability, but at a high cost. About 90 lives were lost and Maseru, Mohale’s Hoek and Mafeteng incurred heavy damage.

In August 2014, after an attempted coup against Thabane, he fled to South Africa. He then called on Pretoria to send troops to stabilise Lesotho.

These are only the most dramatic examples of how South Africa – and the Southern African Development Community – have been sucked into Lesotho’s politics.

A more mundane but no less important example is the much-delayed Roadmap for Reforms and National Dialogue. South Africa’s former deputy chief justice, Dikgang Moseneke, is doing his best to shepherd this toward completion.


1966 - Independence as Kingdom of Lesotho, with Moshoeshoe II as king and Chief Leabua Jonathan (Basotho National Party) as prime minister.

1970 - Oppostion Basutoland Congress Party leads in polls but Chief Jonathan suspends constitution, sends king into temporary exile.

1986 - South Africa blocks borders, demanding expulsion of anti-apartheid activists. Major-General Justin Lekhanya replaces Chief Jonathan in coup.

1990 - King Moshoeshoe II goes into exile. His son is sworn in as Letsie III.

1991 - General Lekhanya forced out by Colonel Elias Tutsoane Ramaema, who lifts ban on political activity.

1993 - Basutoland Congress Party comes to power in elections.

1994 - Fighting among rival army factions.

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High and dry: South African drought leaves Lesotho parched

They haven’t and a third year of drought beckons. That puts 700,000 people in danger of starvation by early 2017.

Water, netball and basketball are the three pillars of evening life in Katse village, Lesotho. The basketball happens on a floodlit court, made for the contractors that built the nearby Katse Dam.

The netball doesn’t have the luxury of a formal court, and takes place on a field that has been flattened by running feet. It ends when the sun sets.

Some 40 women take part, either in playing or resolving disputes from the sidelines. During one argument over whether someone ran too far with the faded white ball, one admits: “We don’t really play by international rules.”

The noise of both sports echoes across the village, mixing in with the sound of cattle bells and general discussion. It then bounces off the 2,400m tall mountains that form the community’s southern boundary.

The dam creates the other boundary, thanks to the 140m sheer drop down to its surface. That leaves a two kilometre strip of rocky ground for farming and homes.

The former take up the majority of land. Around 75% of the local population relies on rain-fed agriculture. The grey strips of fields stretch across any possible surface, giving the Mountain Kingdom a feeling of being full.

That means Katse village is squished into a small area along the spine of one of the ridges that rises into the mountains. The ground is too rocky for crops, and frost means vegetable gardens cannot use the space.

Located in central Lesotho, the Katse dam was built in 1996 (Pic: Google)

With night settling in, the ball players join the rest of the community in queuing for water next to the village’s one working tap. Its reservoir was built too low down to get water to the forever-dry taps higher up. Most homes are higher than the tap.

Dozens of white, green and yellow water containers reserve spots in the queue. Most are carried by children, who can barely lift the containers above the ground. These therefore knock against the uneven paths and spill, leaving trails on the wet ground.

A fortunate few strap containers onto donkeys, or push wheelbarrows. Three battered bakkies take water to homes more than a kilometre from the tap.

“They promised when they built the dam that we would get water all over the village.” Nchai Sitsane wears a baseball cap, more to match his American-style getup than for any practical reason – the sun has now set. He doesn’t make a concession to the biting wind, leaving his leather jacket unbuttoned. “But our parents didn’t follow up and make sure that happened, so here we are.”

His father – a miner in South Africa – passed away, as did his mother, before water came to the village. “Life here is about survival, more than about making it.”

He stops talking to look at the dam, now a dark strip to the north. It is the result of a 1986 agreement between Lesotho and South Africa.

The latter needed to solve a problem: the economic hub of Gauteng needed water and getting it uphill from KwaZulu-Natal would use up too much electricity (and money). Lesotho had lots of water, thanks to its 3 800m mountain peaks and winter snow melt, but no dams.

The 185m tall Katse Dam wall, which curves across a valley where two rivers meet, was the result.

Lesotho gets around R700 million a year (US$51m) from selling that water 10% of government revenue.

The government says the money has meant new schools, roads and electricity in previously cut-off communities. Turbines in the system generate 75-megawatts of capacity, almost enough to power the whole country.

But people in Katse say they have seen little benefit from selling their water. Rain last fell in any volume in 2013. The worst drought in living memory has ensued, wiping out two season’s worth of crops.

People in Katse village doing daily tasks – cooking in the evening (Pic: Delwyn Verasamy)

That streak looks set to continue. El Niño – which drove the drought in the southern hemisphere – has faded away and Nasa predicts that its wet counterpart, La Niña, will probably not materialise and bring heavy rains to fill dams.

Rainfall projections for the region from the South African Weather Service say the usual spring rains will probably not materialise. At best, good rains will come by Christmas.

This is because the climate is changing, undoing the predictable patterns that farmers rely on. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that rainfall across the country will decrease by up to 20%.

That decrease will also come with a shift in rainfall patterns more rain will be concentrated in shorter and more violent spells. For a mountainous country this is predicted to mean a great deal of topsoil washing away.

A taste of that reality came during 2012, when Lesotho was hit with floods. These flooded fields and saw topsoil ending up in rivers and dams.

But in Katse the fields are being ploughed anyway. Four-oxen teams pull shiny metal ploughs, guided by one man while another follows, dropping seeds into the disturbed ground.

A product of volcanic activity, this soil gives farmers here an advantage over their counterparts in Lesotho’s lowlands. But soil needs rain.

“This place should be so wet now,” says Pakalitha Mokhele. His white gumboots – a fixture on the feet of all farmers here – sink into the ground whenever he puts his weight down.

Some rain fell last week, thanks to a cold front sweeping in from the south. Those that planted early have been rewarded with green maize shoots popping out of the ground. “

That isn’t enough. We will have real problems now without the rain.” Mokhele pushes his tall stick into the ground so he can free up a hand to adjust the blanket wrapped around his shoulders.

Even in spring, the morning temperature stays in the single digits. Pointing to the scrappy cattle pulling his plough, he says: “Without the rain there will be a lot of meat in October.”

The herbivore’s rib cage protrudes from under a patchy brown hide. There is little nutrition left in the local grass.

For the cattle, water is less of a problem. A tap further down from the village’s reservoir pumps water into a cement trough. Sheep, donkeys, cattle and horses all take turns shuffling each other along so they can drink.

Their largesse makes a muddy pool around the trough, which gives off water into a sliver of a stream. This makes its way down a nearly dry watercourse, down to Katse Dam.

The Katse Dam and the Lesotho Highlands water project, which supplies water to South Africa (Pic: Delwyn Verasamy)

Standing next to where one of these streams used to drop down the 140m to the dam, Terrence Moshoeshoe jabs his well-honed fishing knife into the crusty grey earth.

“They are releasing too much.” The water level, he says, was a third of a metre higher yesterday. Lesotho has to keep releasing water, helping to stave off a full-blown drought disaster in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Free State. Katse supplies the Vaal Dam in Gauteng.

It is down to 30%. Emergency water releases have also sent water flowing the other way, to the Eastern Cape. But the cost to the dam means it is at 52% – its lowest-ever level.

A strip of recently exposed white rock runs along the dam’s winding cliff face – like the layer of grime left after water is let out of a bathtub. The water should be 26m above the point where Moshoeshoe is standing.

“People on that side [South Africa] don’t appreciate what they are taking from us,” he says. Like others in the village, he sees the dam as a form of South African colonialism – a project put here to help that country at the expense of locals who would otherwise benefit from the rainfall. “It is our resource. Where is our benefit?”

A boy collects water at dusk which he places on his donkey to take home – there is only one tap in the entire village of Katse (Pic: Delwyn Verasamy)

A new dam is being planned to supplement Katse, in the second of five phases to develop Lesotho into a full-blown water resource for the whole region. Some of this will also go to Botswana and Namibia. But this expansion has been delayed for at least two years.

An official working at the dam shakes his head when unofficially queried about the delay. “Ministers always want their money.” That’s a reference to reports that South Africa’s water minister, Nomvula Mokonyane, has delayed the project because she wants to appoint her own contractors. She denies the claims.

The delay could be disastrous for Gauteng. The province’s water projections show that demand will exceed supply by 2020 – when the dam should have been finished. This is if there isn’t another drought.

A recent World Bank report – “Lesotho water security and climate change assessment” – warned: “Delays in implementing the project could undermine water security in South Africa and limit the economic growth benefits that accrue to Lesotho.”

It also leaves the 11 000 people that will be directly and indirectly employed by the project in limbo.

With precious little industry around Katse – the only big employers are the dam and local trout farms – this sort of delay means people do not have an income.

In times of drought, an income is the only way people can get food. Some 20 villagers from here used to do the two-day hike over the mountains to Ficksburg in South Africa to go work in that country’s mining industry.

Outside jobs like this used to make up 20% of Lesotho’s GDP. But a downturn in that industry means only four men in the village still work at mines and send money home.

This means it has to rain in Lesotho’s highlands. The seeds are in the ground. Entire communities are waiting for two years of drought to come to an end.

If the country’s most valuable natural resource doesn’t start falling from the sky, the World Food Programme warns that 700 000 people will need food assistance through to April 2017. South Africa and Botswana will also run dry, as the water level at Katse Dam continues to drop.

A child runs with a water bucket from school to collect water (Pic: Delwyn Verasamy)

The rest of southern Africa is facing the same problems as Lesotho, except its neighbouring countries don’t have as much water. Average rainfall in the semi-arid region is, at best, half the world average of nearly 1,000mm a year.

Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and the rest of the region has declared a drought disaster. The World Food Organisation estimates that 10 million people will need emergency food aid in the region. This is if it rains and maize crops grow in time for the early 2017 harvest.

Climate change projections – collated in the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report – paint a picture where more of the same can be expected.

The region will get up to six degrees hotter by the end of this century. That will dramatically alter rainfall, with less falling, but in more violent storms.

The report warned: “Africa as a whole is one of the most vulnerable continents due to its high exposure and low adaptive capacity.” Critically, maize yields in the region are projected to drop by a third by 2050.

This will make Lesotho’s precious water all the more valuable.

This article was produced with the Mail & Guardian, using funding from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)

Lesotho: Tens of thousands ‘one step away from famine’ as drought impacts harvests and UN launches flash appeal

Devastating drought in the southern African nation of Lesotho has left more than half a million people facing severe food shortages and tens of thousands “one step away from famine”, UN humanitarians said on Friday, in an appeal for funds.

The $34 million flash appeal will support more than 260,000 people “with lifesaving interventions” until April next year, Jens Laerke from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told journalists in Geneva.

A total of half a million people – more than 1/4 of the population of #Lesotho – are facing severe food insecurity because of severe drought which has gripped the country. @UNOCHA today launched a USD 34 million flash appeal to support Lesotho. pic.twitter.com/3N179GC9Ss

&mdash UN Geneva (@UNGeneva) December 20, 2019

“Most of the food insecure people are in rural areas and we estimate that at the peak of the lean season, which runs from January to March, some 71,000 people will face emergency conditions in rural districts. That is IPC phase 4 – one step away from famine,” the spokesperson added.

Ten districts in the small landlocked southern African nation are already “severely food insecure”, according to OCHA, with rural smallholders worst-hit.

Increasingly, women and girls “have reportedly left their rural homes to urban areas or South Africa in search of work, mostly as domestic workers trading sex for money or food” it warned.

One worry linked to this migration is that Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, at more than one in four people.

“It makes particularly women and children, girls in particular, very vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse,” Mr. Laerke said.

Citing the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification food security assessments, often referred to by the acronym IPC, the spokesperson explained that the 2018/2019 planting season had been badly affected by late rains and scorching temperatures.

And with forecasts indicating that Lesotho will receive below-average rainfall during the current 2019/2020 season – October to March - communities now face three back-to-back failed harvests.

The most vulnerable are in Leribe and Maseru districts.

More than 25% of the country severely food insecure

Today, “a total of half a million people – that’s more than a quarter of the population of Lesotho…are facing severe food insecurity because of severe drought which has gripped the country at the same time as people are approaching the peak of the lean season”, Mr. Laerke said.

According to OCHA, food insecurity levels are 64 per cent higher than last year, when the number of food insecure people was around 309,000 (257,283 in rural areas, 51,683 in urban zones).

Highlighting the catastrophic impact of the extreme weather on harvests, Mr. Laerke said that overall cereal production had decreased by more than 60 per cent compared to 2018.

Individual crops have suffered even greater losses, such as maize and sorghum, which respectively saw reductions of 78 and 93 per cent.

“The Government of Lesotho on 30 October declared a national disaster and issued a drought response and resilience plan,” he said. “Our flash appeal will support that plan.”

The UN appeal aims to conduct awareness-raising sessions and distribute life-saving information materials about risks of irregular migration, gender-based violence, violence against children, child marriage, trafficking in persons and how to report abuse.

Lesotho’s $83 million Drought Response and Resilience Plan aims to help more than 508,000 people, including 68,250 children.